Frankly Speaking: It's Now Or Never

This is do or die time for the Gamecock football program. Thursday's opener signals the beginning or the end ...

... the beginning being the beginning of a run that will finally place the University of South Carolina Gamecocks among the nation's elite programs.

Or the end. The end of the dream of ever reaching the lofty heights Gamecock fans have, for so long, craved.

The 2005 college football season is upon us and with it comes the return of the nightly rituals associated with following the game in the Deep South.

Last night I listened to Phil Kornblut's Sports Talk until they signed off the air, and then immediately tuned the dial on my GE Super Radio to 1510 AM WLAC out of Nashville.

What I heard from the boys in Vol Country was typical of those who fear Steve Spurrier's marriage to the Gamecock program.

"He's sixty years old for Pete's sake," Brent Dougherty said referring to the Gamecock coach who, on his sixtieth birthday performed a fitness routine for the sake of the press that rivals those he asks of his players. "And no one can win at South Carolina."

This Dougherty guy continued on.

"Listen, Pete Carrol is the best coach in college football, I agree with that. But to name Steve Spurrier number two is a reach. Bob Stoops should be number two, not Spurrier. Spurrier is not even close."

Of course the Dougherty, along with his sidekicks, all agreed that Phil Fulmer is better.

But it did not end there. The discussion, sparked by a recently released list of the best colleges coaches in America, turned to Spurrier's job at Duke and in the NFL with the Washington Redskins.

"The game has passed him (Spurrier) by," one of the talking heads said. "He changed the game fifteen years ago, but now everybody is doing it. Everyone has adjusted. What Spurrier does is no longer inovative"

"Sure, Spurrier won at Duke and that was probably the best coaching job of his career. But you have to remembewr, Virginia Tech and Miami and Boston College were not in that league back then. He would not be able to do that now."

And then one of the guys put the bugar on top of the whole ugly little episode. "Let's not forget, that was a shared title at Duke. He won nothing outright."

A 'shared title' mind you.

I decided to turn my GE Super Radio off. I had heard enough insecurity for one night.

What they were trying to say, weak though their method was, is that Spurrier cannot climb the ladder in the SEC East at South Carolina, because the SEC East has three better, three traditional powerhouses in Georgia, Florida and Tennessee, sitting in Spurrier's path to glory and success.

Maybe they are right? After all, if you happen to have passed through Georgia, and in particular Atlanta, over the summer, you would have heard a very similar spiel being hammered over the airwaves in the Georgia Bulldawgs homestate as well.

It's different in Florida. Down there the radio talk shows have been kind to their wonderkind. Spurrier is still 'the man' down there and you do not badmouth your icons in the Sunshine State.

But in Tennessee and Georgia, two schools that were dominated by Spurrier during his Florida stint, they are nervous there and it shows in their insecure predictions for Spurriers chances of success.

Spurrier has a honeymoon period. Two season to make the sleepy Gamecock football program a threat to their fellow SEC Eastern Division powerhouses. Then the fans will expect, and rightfully so, a crack at the title.

It's going to take smart coaching and even smarter recruiting. Spurrier will have to take advantage of the opportunities being presented to his program, and make no mistake, this is now HIS program, and he will have to take advantage of the excitement out there surrounding his return to the game.

After that it is business as usual and "what have you done for me lately."

Raise the level of talent at USC to that equal to Tennessee's, Georgia's and the place he built with his own two hands - the Florida Gators.

Instill the fear of having your backside handed to you by a Spurrier coaches team once he has you down. Develop a killer instinct within.

Bring confidence and pride back to the friendly confines of Williams-Brice Stadium, because you have to hold serve in your own backyard if you want to go anywhere in the SEC.

And make the most of the national spotlight while you have it because if you fail to produce exciting results the light will not last for long and the Gamecock football program could fade into the shadows of the Eastern Division forever. Always picked below the big three, slightly above the likes of Kentucky and Vanderbilt.

Gamecock fans are weary of being a perennial fourth place finisher in the East.

Steve Spurrier's contract is a lengthy one - seven years. He has already publicly stated that his goal is to retire from the game as the winningest coach in South Carolina history.

For Spurrier to do that, it will take an average of eight wins a season over the next eight seasons. That would translate into eight consecutive bowl berths. Eight winning seasons in a row. Lots of big wins over the Floridas and Tennessees and Georgias.

In other words, if Spurrier manages to get on a roll, it will have to, by nature, manifest itself into something bigger and better than simply beating Rex Enright's record. It would have to mean division titles and conference championships.

And if that happens then look out. Because the sleeping giant in Columbia will be awake and there could be no stopping him for decades to come.

The alternative is scary.

If it fails to happen for Spurrier fairly quickly, then it could get ugly in a hurry.

Beware blow-out losses to Florida or Tennessee. Spurrier has to find a way to prevent that from happening. He has to make good showings from a seemingly super-underdog position.

And let there be no internal problems along the way. Not that it doesn't happen within every major college program in the country, but with so many speedbumps along the way as it is, Spurrier cannot afford to have to deal with major disciplinary problems to boot.

So Thursday night's opener against Central Florida marks the beginning of the beginning, or the beginning of the end, of the long cherished dream South Carolina Gamecock fans have harbored. Time flies and in no time we'll know where things are headed.

Spurrier's enemies are hoping for failure but as he has often stated, "You cannot pay attention to what your enemies say about you."

And Spurrier's fans? Those in the state of Florida and those dressed in Garnet and Black in the Palmetto State. Outwardly they are saying the man is golden. Spurrier can do it, there is no doubt about it. But it is not an open and shut case and everyone is quietly accepting that possibility within.

Time will tell but you have to like Spurrier's chances. The facilities are in place. The fan support both emotionally and financially. The support of the entire administration within the University is there.

Will he do it?

It reminds us of the old high school cheer, "Stevie Spurrier he's our man, if he can't do it nobody can."

Never has there been truer words versed.

It's now or never for the Gamecock football program. Fans need to be behind this 100% come thick or thin or high water. It is not going to be easy. But if the stars are aligned just right, and if the football gods are still on SOS's side, and if the ball bounces our way most of the time, and if we place our index fingers on the tip of our noses and say the Hail Football prayers long enough while tapping our heels and knocking on wood and throwing salt over our shoulders ... it can be done and Steve Spurrier is just the man to do it.

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